Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 29 - Glasgow City, The Willow Tea Rooms, House For An Art Lover, Florence and the Machine at the Hydro

We bail on our planned morning activity today. We had planned to do the Macintosh tour at the Glasgow School of Arts. Since the fire we can’t tour the actual building only the exhibition. We are tardy getting away and in the end we decide we’ll just do something else and head into the city for our lunch at the Willow Tea Room, we do a reccie over to the Cathedral but run out of time to make it worth stopping there today so we just decide to wander about in the city until lunch - which isn't long now.
Parking is simple in the Mitchell Street Car Park and this puts us right at the Lighthouse with its entrance off a funky arcade of neon signs highlighting in simple terms aspects of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work. While Hubby indulges his obsession of checking that he’s locked everything several times, I wander out into Buchanan Street. Imagine those movie scenes when the heroine finds herself in some cosmopolitan centre gazing skyward and spinning around in her dress with fitted bodice and extravagantly flared and feminine skirt a beaming smile across her beautiful face revelling in the moment of joy. It’s not what you would see had you been a fly on the wall, far from it, but it’s how I felt just the same.
Those of you who know Glasgow must surely be smiling in satisfaction because you knew didn’t you. You’ve been waiting patiently for me to arrive and discover it for myself. Glasgow is wonderful. Of course. I can’t understand why I had no expectations. It was the 2nd city of the British Empire at its peak. Of course it is fantastic! Better still, Glasgow has not had a subsequent major boom to inspire people to demolish and replace the old stone glories. Glasgow seems to be intact and mostly unadulterated.
The weather can’t make up its mind if it wants to rain or not, settling on just enough precipitation to keep our rain hoods up most of the time. Some people have brollies, others have appropriate jackets or coats, most just brave the light drizzle, confident of drying off quickly in the warm centrally heated offices and shops.
Hubby and I find each other and we start making our way to the Willow Tea Rooms. We have created another accidental stroke of genius. The navigation assistance we’ve used has brought us to the Buchanan Street Willow Tea Rooms. Ah. We will need to walk over to Sauchiehall Street but we’re not sorry. Of course we must wander through Glasgow city! It’s a pleasure. …but who approved that there? There’s a jarringly modern building plonked in amongst the older styles. Hubby likes it. I’ve got nothing against the style or the building, I just don’t like it where it is. It pays no respect at all to its context. It would be better over in the new precinct along the river. Go to town on innovative modern styling over there. Then again, this one isn’t obviously that fantastically innovative.
As we walk along, we are obliged to pass modest little Nelson Mandela Place. It’s a little thoroughfare with a big name. I can't help but smile. It is kind of like the city beaurocracy is paying a half-hearted compliment. “We like you Nelson Mandela, but not all that much. There are limits. ”
Someone has since explained that in fact Nelson Mandela Place is one of the great things in Glasgow. Apparently in the 1980s, when Nelson Mandela was still in jail in South Africa, the South African High Commission was located here in what was then known as St George's Place. In 1981, the City of Glasgow had led the charge lobbying for the release of Mandela, giving him the Freedom of the City. Five years later they doubled down on their campaign and in a stroke of sheer genius, changed the address of the South African High Commission in Glasgow to Nelson Mandela Place. Who wouldn't be proud to be Glaswegian.
I need some sinus meds and with a few minutes to spare before our reservation we wander into Boots. It’s bedlam in there. I don’t need it that much. I’ll live. We leave quick smart.
To get to the Willow Tea Rooms we have to go in through the shop and up some stairs to the café reception which we find on a mezzanine level. Not at all what I was expecting. Relief as we are led through the diners on this level and up some more stairs into the tea room proper. It’s cramped. I don’t immediately realise why. They appear to have added a couple of tables into the middle of the café. The style of chair for the additions is reasonably consistent with the Mackintosh originals but they are not as high backed. Perhaps just as well or the room would look even more cramped. 
We settle in and set about deciding what to have. It’s a long list but we both decide to go with the afternoon tea. Served on a traditional 3 tiered cake stand, enjoy our delicious selection of homemade sandwiches, scone with clotted cream & strawberry jam, buttered shortbread and your choice of cake which you can choose from today’s selection. Select your pot of loose leaf tea or freshly ground coffee from the selection on the back of the menu. Hubby has a cappuccino and I opt for apple juice rather than a hot beverage. For cakes Hubby’s decided to go for the Victoria Sponge and I choose the Lemon Meringue Tart. 
We chat and read the news to each other as we await delivery. The media is reporting that we’ve had a change of Prime Minister in Australia depriving the electorate from the sheer unadulterated pleasure of booting Tony Abbott from the office of Prime Minister come the election next year. My how we and so many others were looking forward to giving the LNP a savage kicking. The change has made things rather more interesting than the otherwise foregone conclusion.
Our three tiered stand arrives stacked with goodies. We each have three finger sandwiches. There's cucumber sandwich, smoked salmon and beef. All very nice. There’s some little shortbread rounds that are a bit sweeter than Walker’s shortbread and make a nice change. The scones for the cream tea are enormous and too big for the amount of cream and jam provided. They’re typically short and fairly dense but slightly warm and tasty. Hubby takes the crown without me having a remote chance. His Victoria Sponge is beautifully light and fresh. Easily the best we’ve had. Good choice. My Lemon Meringue Tart is the victim of my expectations. Pastry is light and delicate but firm enough not to fall apart, the meringue is OK, not quite as stiff as it should be but acceptable. Unfortunately I kept wishing the filling was home-made lemon curd rather than the pedestrian affair it is and that reminds me of commercial “lemon spread” you buy in the supermarket. Disappointing really but not enough to spoil a very nice meal.  We’re more worried about the time than the staff is when it comes to paying. I’m keen to be away so I have a look in the shop downstairs while Hubby takes care of the bill. Really I’d rather pay a little more and have more space around the tables.
Hubby’s delayed by checking out the exhibition that is up near the toilets and enjoys seeing photos of some unusual Mackintosh pieces, especially the billiard table and some glass panels. I’m a bit over it and couldn’t be bothered walking back up the two floors.
We take a different route back to the car, exploring and enjoying some elaborate stone work along the way and noticing the mural on the car park wall which seems to be making a reference to sustainability.
This afternoon we’re supposed to be having a rest before we go out tonight but we think we’ll just take a quick look at the House For An Art Lover which is more or less on the way home. Well, everything is on the way home really. Just depends on what route you take. ;-)
The car park is almost empty when we arrive and it’s still lightly raining. Hubby moves directly to the house and I wander off on my own. I can’t resist a look at the walled garden before we go in and we had tantalising glimpses of it when we were driving in. 
I step through the doorway and find a nostalgic dream garden. I smile. There’s beds of Dahlias and chrysanthemums and sweet peas on trellises. Curly topiary sits glossy among beds of pelargoniums and small flowered begonias. A pink fuchsia makes a pretty feature.Variegated abutilon small and gangly in unexpected positions. Left to grow where they are they would be far too big if they survived the winter. I guess they must be grown as annuals.  
I don’t have time to linger long so I turn and quickly head to what I think must be the closest exhibition entrance. Hubby is nowhere to be found. We phone and meet up and bicker about which entrance is the right one. I let Hubby discover for himself. It’s no drama. We pay our entrance fee and are directed to the lift that will take us up to the accessible rooms of the house. The House For An Art Lover was built as a public building so some rooms are not part of the exhibition rooms. The exhibition rooms themselves are used for public functions also.  
We collect our audio guide and hear about how this design came to be built so many decades after CRM’s death. The original concept did not extend to detailed construction drawings so research and compromises were required to bring it to life due to some inconsistencies in the original illustrations.  What they have achieved is breath-taking. The contrast between the dark panelled dining room and the pale and light filled music room is emphasised. The darker room, our commentary points out, would highlight the formal wear of the men in its austere black and white and also the dresses and jewels of the ladies. The Music room is all near white with curved glass doors leading to the terrace through an avenue of stylised tree columns with little green leaf symbols at the top. I am among the great majority of visitors in loving the oval room which was originally intended for a ladies withdrawing room. The light fitting is an adaptation of a similar light in the home of Mackintosh’s patron. It casts entrancing shadows on the ceiling. The whole thing is magnificent and what a jewel for Glasgow’s crown it is. Bringing the design to life was a stroke of genius.
It’s getting distressingly late now. We need to get home and chill out for a while.
It’s action central when we get home. New arrivals and friends. Hustle and bustle that goes on for a while before it settles down. We sleep and I rouse at nearly 7pm. We'd better start making some moves. We’re off to see Florence and the Machine in concert at the SSE Hydro. We’re planning to drive but Linda counsels us that it isn’t a good plan. We should get the train. Seriously we should get the train. I’m leaving the call to Hubby. We’ll take the train but I sense he's not really convinced.
It’s delightfully simple to just walk around the corner and into the train station at Mount Florida. We’re puzzling on the platform but getting along OK. A nice Glaswegian man comes over and makes sure we know where we need to be and got our tickets OK. When we get to Glasgow Central he actually walks us around to where we need to go to make our change to the train for Exhibition Centre. I can hardly believe it. Linda had been saying to us that the city’s motto is People Make Glasgow and that it’s true and Glaswegians are the nicest friendliest people you’ll find anywhere. She specifically said that people will divert from where they are going to show you where you need to go and here we have a demonstration that she’s absolutely right. Full marks to Glaswegians!!
Hubby observes that lots have people have had the same idea as me.  Huh?? You know, going in for the start of the main gig rather than when the support act is on. Oh, yeah. Not exactly my invention though is it. There’s a steady stream of people walking down from Exhibition Centre along the long covered walkway into the precinct around the SSE Hydro. It’s getting pretty dark now and the lights are on. It looks amazing.  I head over playing tourist to try to get a good angle. There’s a tout singing out asking if anyone wants to buy tickets. Is that legal here? Groups of friends mill about, probably waiting for everyone to get here before they all go in together.
We’ve not had any dinner yet so we go in and sus out the food options. There’s an Asian take away and a burger joint as far as I can see. I come from a city where the basic rule is if you want good quality Asian food, don’t eat from an Asian place unless Asian people are eating there. I can see no Asian people in the crowd at all let alone eating from this take away. It’s a different context to Sydney so maybe that rule shouldn’t apply… still …we have already had experience of the weird and wonderful innovations that are possible for the familiarly named menu options when the dishes are adapted to meet the local palate. I decide to have the burger option. It’s on a brioche bun. Brioche buns are popular here for burgers. It’s pretty reasonable for stadium food. The onion rings are tasty. We don’t get those at home although they are starting to appear at some places. Mainly at American eateries.
They’re starting to announce that the show is starting. It’s a bluff but we make our way up the many flights of stairs to our seats in the rafters. We’re not that familiar with Florence and the Machine, though we did do some research and bought the latest album so we’re not completely unfamiliar seeing this show… I know she’s hugely popular at the moment. I was surprised it was so easy to get tickets.
The audience is assembled from all ages. Old dudes at least as old as us, young teenagers and everything in between. Our seats are pretty good. We’ve got a good view and I wasn’t prepared to spend more or to hang about watching for a price drop online. What a venue!  It is massive. Absolutely massive. I understand the Commonwealth Games gymnastics competition was held here and it is the second busiest venue in the world. My eyes narrow, so this is competition for the Sydney Opera House then... haha. With the beautiful Armadillo by Foster and Partners nearby, this whole area is like a cross between the Sydney Opera House and Olympic Park at Homebush. It's a wonderful asset for the city.  
We haven’t missed the pre-show entertainment completely. The people seated next to us seem to have been having a falling out with some people in the row in front of us. The guy next to us appears to have made a complaint and asked to be moved. The security people come over and sort it out. Basically they tell everyone to be grown ups and leave each other alone. Just don’t interact there’s no need to move anyone at this stage. Good. There’s no more trouble.
The stage begins to fill with musicians of broad array. There’s even a harpist. They are going all out. Florence comes on to rapturous applause as you expect and it’s away. There’s not been any sign about photography etc and the visibility of back screens on phones is consistent throughout the show as the audience members capture a precious memory. I figure what’s the fuss if I just post the odd photo while I tell you that the result of the large group of people on stage, and no doubt an even larger group backstage is outstanding. The music is so true to the album you wonder if she’s lip synching but I don’t think she is. She has an incredibly powerful voice yet her speaking voice is quietly refined. You would never expect that she has it in her. The lightshow is also brilliant. It’s just a really enjoyable fun night of great music. I don’t know what others paid, but our seats were great value for money. Top night.
People start to drift away pretty early once the first end comes. Clearly they don’t want to get caught in the crowds getting away. The encores are some of the best items as is often the case. The plan relies on going out with a bang, not some pathetic also ran tune.
As I’m chiefly here as an observer of Glasgow life we make no hurry for the exit. The lights come on and the groundlings down on the floor of the arena are drifting out looking for all the world like a mob of soldier crabs on the mud flats at low tide, drifting off to the protection of the shoreline. 
The crowd leaving is well behaved and sober. The atmosphere walking up to the train station is very upbeat. As they did when we were arriving, the crowd sings along with the buskers in the covered way as they pass this time it’s Daydream Believer. Everyone knows the words. Great song.

The police are on crowd control at the station and an orderly queue snakes down past a donut stand. There’s one charming queue jumper. I let the locals deal with her but she’s persistent, says she has to get the next train or she won’t be able to get home. Oh yeah. General attitude is cynical and basically, everyone’s in the same boat suck it up princess, but very cordially expressed. I’m paraphrasing. She’s behind me so I don’t need to get involved. It’s a beautifully clear, mild night. The queue doesn’t take long but still, although we’ve enjoyed milling with the crowd, Hubby wishes he’d driven in. Standing still is more of a problem for him than walking about.  We’re home at a civilised hour people are still up and we talk about the show. We’re tired but pretty hyped up and in need of a wind down chat before retiring.  Another fun day in Glasgow. 

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